Friday, February 15, 2008

Reality Check

A friend of mine complained this week, "I don't like to read your blog. I mean, it's all monster this and comics that. Aren't you engaged with reality?" Spoken like a true Myrant non-reader. Vet Myrant readers know it just ain't so; to the annoyance of some, I regularly mix my response to hard news with the ephemeral with life. I think I do an okay job of mixing pop culture and personal musings with an ear to the rail for what's happening in the big bad beautiful world. So, anyhoot, for her sake, I offer the following on this fluffy Friday, free of any monster this or comics that.

Keep the Blind Blind, Keep the Deaf Deaf:
Bush is Shutting Down

  • The public face the US government is putting on the current economic devastation is, as expected, pretty facile and flaccid.

  • Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke told Congress yesterday that "the central bank will act as needed to help the struggling U.S. economy, but it has to be mindful that growth should pick up later in the year," according to the report. Bernanke himself said the Fed "will be carefully evaluating incoming information bearing on the economic outlook and will act in a timely manner as needed to support growth and to provide adequate insurance against downside risks."

    That's what Bernanke told the Senate Banking Committee, while what's going down under the public radar is another matter --
  • -- you see, the Bush Administration has announced that as of March 1st it is shutting down -- winner of a Forbes “Best of the Web” awards for compiling data across government agencies and making it publicly accessible -- due to "budgetary constraints."

  • Check out the comments on that link, particularly 'dawurz''s ongoing list of information suppression at the behest of the Bush Administration, and special thanks to Rob Walton (Ragmop) for bringing this alarming news to our attention.

    In a related economic barometer -- since insurance is draining American household income on a monthly basis, increasing exponentially while offering less and less coverage for more and more money (one of my amigos just got his family's new health insurance bill -- it's up 26% in one fell swoop, for diminished coverage), the same story year after year -- we find the increasingly suspect insurance industry under fire.
  • The insurance industry is now facing increasing fraud accusations and investigations; how long can this untenable situation continue to deteriorate? Check out the 'related stories' links, too, for a sobering chronology.

  • Hanging It Up

  • In the meantime, meanwhile, the standoff continues between the White House and the House of Representatives concerning extending the bill which allows our Fearful Leaders to spy on foreign phone calls and e-mails that pass through the United States. "The White House reluctantly agreed to a 15-day extension but refuses to approve any more, and has appealed to House leaders to simply approve the version approved by the Senate, which includes the legal immunity for telecom companies the president wants."

  • That odious immunity provision protects the lackey phone companies that helped the government in its warrantless wiretapping program conducted outside the authority of the FISA court -- retroactive immunity that the House intentionally left out, bless 'em.

    Kudos to the House; the Senate rolled over like a puppy on that one, damn their collective eyes. In short, the President continues to ignore and break the laws of the land whenever it suits him and/or his policies, then go back and retroactively clean up afterwards.

    The Teflon Pres wants his teflon shield retroactive (like his annual budgets that never, ever include the cost of the fucking wars we're/he's waging). Notice to the House (since the Senate remains in his pocket): "Enough is enough -- it's his final year in office, quit giving in to the Teflon Pres!"

    Another 'Fuck You' to Our Troops

    We can't blame this one on the Bush Administration -- note that "a bill signed by President Bush last month strengthens protections for service members and their families," but still, the reality is serving our country is destroying the family life of those who serve, and of their loved ones.
  • This heartbreak news item surfaced on Valentine's Day on what our volunteer army is dealing with: loss of child custody because they serve our country.
  • Again, the volunteer military system is in serious trouble, the erosion on all fronts taken a terrible toll on those who serve -- and the principle of an all-volunteer military.

    Paying the Fed Piper

    I've chosen not to blog about this up to now, even though it's very local news -- and has been since we moved to Windsor VT at the very end of December of 2006.
  • Ed and Elaine Brown of Plainfield, NH -- literally just across the Connecticut River from my own home -- have paid the price for their stand against the IRS, and now their property is going up for sale.

  • These initial auctions are sad affairs, currying the Browns's personal belongings after the very public, months-long standoff with Federal Marshalls they sustained throughout 2007. It all ended this past fall with the quiet arrest of the Browns, who are both sentenced to and serving prison time for 5 years. They still owe the federal government 2.2 million dollars: blood from stones.

    How close to home was this story? As I read the news about the auctions, I recalled the Friday afternoon this past fall when our cats Tuco and Lizzie were zipping around the house, upset by a series of window-shaking explosions. It turned out we were hearing the detonation of explosives secreted around the Brown house during the standoff; the authorities were clearing the grounds. The very air shook for miles around...

    Editorial aside: How do I personally feel about all this? One of my best friends in the '80s (who passed away in the mid-'90s) once took a principled anti-war stand with this wife against the IRS and government by refusing to pay taxes. He and his wife fought it until they were about to lose their home; it of course took years for them to recover, though they did, and they kept their home. He told me about that ordeal twice, once at great length, and I've never forgotten his account. Principled stands against the IRS are losing propositions, every time. The IRS has the legal clout and Federal muscle to crush any form of individual tax resistance, period. When I lived in the Wilmington/Marlboro VT area, I followed the sad tale of a couple in nearby Colrain, MA who lost their home in the '90s over similar issues (refusing to fund the Gulf War via taxes); in both cases cited in this paragraph, the stand was against war funding via taxes, a principled stand I can relate to more than the Browns and their stand: the principle of income taxes not being legal.

    Look, like most of you, I had a social security number before I was conscious of it. I've been working since I was six or seven years old. I've been complying with
    IRS tax law since I was a working pre-teen. I've seen to it my own children had social security numbers and learned to file their taxes, and did so to their adult years. I've 'bought into' the system, if you will, but then again, I reckon I benefit daily from the roads I drive and the plows that clear the snow and every single community, state and Federal program that does service day-to-day life. It makes sense to me; I'm in, to the grave. Though I wish the taxes funding government policies and programs I loathe -- the wars, for instance -- were balanced by greater funding of the social safety nets and the arts the GOP so loathe, so be it. The pendulum will eventually swing the other way. The fictionalized version of the Reagan Presidency (among the worst of our lifetimes, bottomed out only by George W, however much the Republican base loves to lionize and rhapsodize otherwise) can only last so long, and I do believe President Bush and his cronies have done in the cycle of Republican rule for a time. In any case, I file, I pay, annually; I'm a good citizen. I don't want to lose our home, I don't care to go to jail over that.

    Tuco and Lizzie have forgotten that fall Friday afternoon, but I haven't. The echoing 'booms,' the earth shaking, the shivering window panes -- the Feds prevail, as they do every time. But it was after all the Browns who set those explosive devices they detonated that afternoon. It's odd, driving through the quiet Plainfield NH township, which is one of my favorite local drives; sad to think it all went down hereabouts, know a year-long standoff happened just off Route 12A, a route Marge and I drive at least once or twice a week. Though it's indeed sad to think of the Browns losing everything and being in jail, they're still alive. The long-threatened violent showdown never came to pass. The patience and restraint of the local authorities proved wise, and the Feds followed suit. A blessing, that.

    Drawing the Line: Cartoonists, Terrorists & Torture R Us

  • Well, now it's official: we not only do torture, President Bush insists upon his imperial right to torture --
  • -- while, of course, maintaining with his usual smug steadfastness that we don't torture. "The United States needs the ability to interrogate effectively, within the law, captured Al-Qaeda terrorists." Riiiiiiight.

  • Hitting close to home -- I am, after all, a cartoonist, too -- note that this week's big news included Tuesday's report how Danish authorities arrested three people suspected of plotting a cartoonist's assassination; the scheme was directed at 73-year-old Kurt Westergaard, the cartoonist whose 2005 depiction of the Prophet Muhammad wearing a bomb-shaped turban enraged Muslims two years ago and sparked international riots and controversy.

  • I read all the international news stories very, very closely, and it appears the Danes didn't utilize torture to foil this plot. Apparently, effective police action saved the day -- not torture, not military intervention, not waging war. Which brings me to
  • Mark Martin posting a link to the news item on his always-splendid blog, Jabberous, on February 12, saying, "This sort of thing is why I am so perplexed by Naomi Wolf, and so many of my fellow cartoonists and creatives."
  • But, what are you saying, Mark? I mean, exactly? You perplex me.

    Intelligent Design Advocates Need Not Read Further

  • To the eternal question about "Which came first? The bat flying or the bat radar?," the fossil record has yielded an answer at last.
  • I, for one, will sleep easier tonight.

    Tomorrow, dreams. The hell with reality --

    Have a Freaky Friday, Flight Fans...

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